Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #7:
Lisa Graff, First-Time Author, Drops By

h1 February 13th, 2007 by Eisha and Jules

Knock. Knock . . . Who’s there?

Interrupting Cow.



Oh wait, that’s Eisha’s favorite childhood joke (as mentioned previously in our co-review of M.T. Anderson’s Octavian, of all places). We got carried away there, but we hope we at least made your milk-snortin’ inner child laugh.

Let’s try again: Knock. Knock. Who’s there?

First-time author Lisa Graff, knocking on our cyber-door. Perhaps she heard we like to have fantasy author wine/coffee soirees. Oh wait! She’s not a mirage. She’s real! She’s really come to say hi, to chat with us on her seven-day blog tour. Lucky us! We’ll even offer her some peach raspberry pie (see below) with the coffee (and then we’ll have wine).

Lisa kicked things off yesterday at The Longstockings’ site with a fun interview (in which Lisa swears she’ll squeeze her linguistics degree into a children’s book one day, and — with her joking about everyone’s interest, or lack thereof, in that aside — Jules really would enjoy that. Linguistics Nerds unite!). The Longstockings asked some great questions, such as: “If you could transport yourself into any time period so you could have a first hand account to write about it, what would it be?” Good one. The Longstockings — devoted to the “love of Pippi (and all things children’s books)” — are, as you will read below, eight writers who discuss areas of interest to writers and readers of children’s and teen literature. But, we shall stop there, as you’ll read more about them below.

Lisa’s first novel, aimed at intermediate-aged readers, is The Thing About Georgie, released just last month by HarperCollins Children’s Books. She will tell us all about it — as well as some other novels she has been and will be working on. Woo hoo! Lisa is pictured above, and about that photo she says: “Random tidbit: the weird scribble in chalk behind my head apparently says ‘apple’ in Russian. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway” . . .

Before we cyber-sit down with Lisa, we must mention the Georgie giveaway: The first three people to send an email to, saying that you saw Lisa’s interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast today, will receive a free copy of The Thing About Georgie. Put “Georgie Giveaway” in the subject line, and in the message box put your name, address, and our blog’s name. Easy, huh?

The thing about Lisa is that she’s really funny and smart and was a blast to chat with, so we thank her for stopping by. Oh, and we posed our favorite questionnaire to Lisa, so here’s our Perfunctory Curse Word Disclaimer (we’re still tired of typing this, but it’s necessary, we suppose): Remember that we use the Pivot Questionnaire in our interviews. Remember that it includes the what-is-your-favorite-curse-word question. It’s optional for folks to answer, but if they do, we will not edit their responses in any way; yup, we’ll post their responses exactly as they send them to us. Some people might not use “*”s to edit their saucy words. If you’re easily offended, just don’t read that question.

Welcome, Lisa!

7-Imp: Do tell us all about The Thing About Georgie, your new middle-grade novel. Do you also have your sights set on writing a picture book, YA title, or even adult title one day, by chance?

Lisa: The Thing About Georgie is about a ten-year-old boy who just happens to be a dwarf, and the way he responds to the news that his parents are expecting a second child — one who does not have dwarfism. It’s also about friends and enemies and U.S. presidents and dog-walking and growing up.

I’d love to write picture books some day! I have a few I’ve been working on for a while now. I think I’d like to try YA, too, just to see how it feels to step into a new voice and perspective. I don’t know about adult books, though. Occasionally I’ll think up an idea for one, and then realize, “Nah, I’d rather write for ten-year-olds.” But you never know . . .

7-Imp: What can you tell us about Allergic to Chocolate, your next title?

Lisa: Allergic to Chocolate will actually be my third book with HarperCollins (the second one, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, about a twelve-year-old con artist, comes out in January ’08). I’m still in the early stages of writing Chocolate, but so far it’s about an eight-year-old girl (who may or may not be a hypochondriac), and her new octogenarian neighbor (who may or may not be hiding a collection of bathtubs somewhere in her house) and the curious friendship that sprouts up between the two of them.

7-Imp: We read on your site that at the age of eight, you wrote your first picture book after your mama told you to “go write a story or something.” What was The Strangest Flower about, other than, uh, a strange flower?

Lisa: It’s about a bunch of flowers that live in a garden, and this new flower arrives (I’m not quite sure where it comes from, actually, it just sort of appears), and it’s strange. It has prickly thorns all over it. And the other flowers are like, wha??? Because apparently they’ve never seen thorns before. So they shun the strange flower. But then it starts to grow, and lo and behold it is a gorgeous rose, and then, man, those other flowers feel pretty darn stupid, and they decide to be its friend, because it’s so “butiful.” (Now I’m thinking I should write a sequel, in which the rose tells all the other flowers they can bite him. Although maybe that’s a little too angry…)

The best part of this story is that it’s illustrated entirely with my own horrific crayon drawings. There’s not even any grass; the flowers just sort of float in midair. It’s also written on the wrong side of five sheets of notebook paper. I’m expecting the phone call for my Caldecott any minute now.

7-Imp: Do you really know how to roast hotdogs with mirrors (as also mentioned on your site)?

Lisa: Yes indeedy! Although I think my favorite method for cooking hotdogs is the Girl Scout way: take one thawed, uncooked hotdog, stick it inside a bun, and wrap the whole shebang in aluminum foil. Put this inside an empty quart-sized paper milk carton with a slit in the top, and then place the milk carton at the edge of your campfire. When the entire milk carton has burned up, voila! You have a cooked hotdog. It really works, you should try it.

7-Imp: What were you studying your junior year of college when you were in Italy? And where exactly in Italy? Do tell. (Jules, in particular, loves Italy and would like to just up and move there most days).

Lisa: I’m so happy to meet a fellow Italophile! I was there for a little over a year. I was a Linguistics major in college, focusing on language acquisition, and one day I decided that in order to study language-learning from the inside what I should do was go to a country where I couldn’t speak a word and learn the whole language from scratch. So I went to Italy.

Looking back, I have no idea what I was thinking or why my school let me do that, but it was absolutely amazing. I spent six months in Siena (which is in Tuscany, near Florence), studying only Italian language and culture. When I arrived, I spoke literally zero Italian. For about two weeks the only number I knew how to say was ventotto (28), because that was the number of my hotel room when I first arrived. I stayed with an amazing host family in Siena, and I swear I learned half of my vocabulary from their six-year-old son, because he would just babble at me. He didn’t care if I understood him or not.

After Siena I went to Venice for about nine months. I was supposed to continue my Linguistics studies there (since by then, shockingly, I had a pretty decent grasp of the language). But when I got there I discovered that the school actually didn’t have my major, so I spent the whole time taking anything that might count as a G.E. back home — literature classes, the history of Judaism, even physical anthropology. All in Italian. At one point I could name every suture in the human skull in Italian, but unfortunately that useless information seems to have vacated my brain since then. It was a pretty strange year all around, but I wouldn’t go back and change it for anything.

Ah, I’m ready to get on a plane right now . . . Jules, if you move there, can I come visit??? {Ed. Note: Word. Uh, wait . . . Editors should sound more professional. How ’bout: Yes, I would really enjoy your company!} . . .

7-Imp: How does being an editorial assistant inform your children’s book writing?

Lisa: Well, it certainly helps me understand the business side of things better. I think it can be hard for authors sometimes to hand their books off to an editor, because you don’t know what all the stages are — when it goes off to copyediting, how decisions get made about jackets and design and catalog placement and what-not. So it’s reassuring to know all the steps. Somehow it makes me worry less about things.

Beyond that, being immersed in stories all day definitely keeps my brain churning. And reading as much as I do gives me a good sense of story structure — what works and what doesn’t — as well as fueling my creative desire to go home and work on my own books.

7-Imp: How long have The Longstockings been together? We read that it’s been since you all met through the MFA in creative writing program at The New School, but how long has that been? How do those other great Pippi-lovin’ authors inform your writing?

Lisa: We’ve only been blogging as a group since September ’06, so not very long. We’d been writing together in groups for a couple years, though. Jenny, Caroline, Coe, and I met in the New School MFA program in 2003, and Lisa Greenwald, Kathryne, Daphne, and Siobhan were in the class after us. We had classes and workshops together, and when school ended, we just sort of decided to keep meeting and swapping stories. Personally, I don’t understand how writers can function without workshop groups. I need that feedback on my work early on to help me craft the arc of the story. And it’s so nice to have seven wonderful women to gossip and gripe with, too!

7-Imp: What advice, if any, do you have for writers aiming to have a first novel published? What advice, if any, do you have for writers who want to blog?

Lisa: I think that, when you’re just starting to write, one of the most important things you can do is to take yourself seriously. It’s hard to really believe in what you’re doing before you have an agent or a publisher, but if you don’t think of yourself as a writer you won’t ever write — you won’t carve out time to type when you’re busy beyond belief, and you won’t keep chugging away when the rejection letters start pouring in. For me, it took an MFA program to start thinking of myself as a “real writer” — which is probably the most expensive way there is to begin taking oneself seriously, but it worked for me. My student loans and time commitment were the kick in the butt I needed to really dedicate myself to my writing.

As for blogging, I don’t know. I’m still working all that out myself (I’ve only been at it a couple months so far). Mainly I’m stealing ideas from my favorite blogs . . .

7-Imp: What is the most recent book you’ve read that you would rave about? And do you find yourself with as much time as you’d like to devote to reading for pleasure?

Lisa: The most amazing book I’ve read in the past few months has got to be Sold by Patricia McCormick. It’s about a thirteen-year-old girl from Nepal who’s sold into the sex trade. It’s heavy stuff, obviously, but somehow the writing is so light and crisp and beautiful that you just can’t stop turning the pages. I can’t rave enough about this book. I missed my subway stop while I was reading it, and I didn’t even care because that gave me more time to read.

I definitely don’t have much time to read for pleasure anymore, which is sad. Between my job and my writing, I have very little time for anything, really. And since I spend about 80% of my workday reading, when I get home I’d usually rather do anything else. The good thing about all this is that it’s made me really picky about what I do choose to read. And I no longer feel guilty about putting books down permanently, either. If a story starts to bore me, I’m done. So I only read novels I truly love now, which I think is a very good thing.

7-Imp: We read on your blog that your love of pie borders on the obsessive. Do tell: Which is your favorite kind of pie?

Lisa: Oooooh, so many choices! Lemon meringue, key lime, your classic apple with a lattice crust . . . I think I’m going to have to go with peach raspberry, though. Mmm, peach raspberry pie . . .

7-Imp: You also mention on your site that you love to collect “cheesy plastic snowglobes” from the cities you’ve visited all over the world. Which is your favorite? And why?

Lisa: My favorite one is also the least exotic — it’s from New York. It has the Empire State Building inside, and instead of fake snow there are colored rings that you have to hook onto the ESB’s antenna.

7-Imp: Which blog or site would you take to the prom to show off and you love it so much you could marry it?

Lisa: Definitely Fuse#8. I heart that blog big time. So witty, with lots of reviews and news and relevant (and also irrelevant) tidbits. And Hot Men of Children’s Literature, too!

7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Lisa: I can sing 50 prepositional phrases in alphabetical order to the tune of “A Whole New World.” Sadly, I’m not kidding.

7-Imp: If you could have three (living) authors over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine (and you’d have to throw in some pie, too, of course) or to play The Fish Game with (authors you haven’t met yet, of course), whom would you choose?

Lisa: Oh man, if I could actually get three authors to play The Fish Game with me I think I just might die of happiness. I’ll go with three of my favorite picture book authors: David Shannon, Lane Smith, and Mo Willems. That would be one rollicking good Fish Game.

7-Imp: We like to pose to people The Pivot Questionnaire, since who knew that asking someone, say, what their favorite sound or noise is could tell you so much about them. So here goes . . .

Lisa: {I just need to say that I love this questionnaire because I used to be obsessed with “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” and also I once rode in an elevator with James Lipton. Okay, moving on . . .}

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Lisa: “joy”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Lisa: “Asphalt.” Who thought up that word? It sounds disgusting.

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Lisa: Drizzly days and warm cups of tea.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Lisa: Crowded subway trains.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word?

Lisa: “Sh*tballs.” I don’t know why.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Lisa: Laughter.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Lisa: Gum-smacking.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Lisa: High school Biology teacher.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Lisa: Bodyguard.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Lisa: “Come on in and stay for a while.”

Thanks, Lisa, for stopping by 7-Imp! Readers, stay tuned… tomorrow’s blog tour stop is with Kelly at Big A little a – whom we interviewed yesterday. Random coincidence, or kismet? You be the judge… Anyway, you’ll definitely want to see what kind of questions Kelly comes up with for the charming and effusive Lisa Graff!

4 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #7:
Lisa Graff, First-Time Author, Drops By”

  1. I am looking forward to reading this book. Interesting premise. So glad to discover new blogs along the ay. Thanks.

  2. Thank you so much for having me, Jules and Eisha! You are fabulous hostesses!

    (And Eisha, I think we might be psychic brain twins or something, because “interrupting cow” has long been MY favorite knock-knock joke!)

  3. I think that, when you’re just starting to write, one of the most important things you can do is to take yourself seriously. It’s hard to really believe in what you’re doing before you have an agent or a publisher, but if you don’t think of yourself as a writer you won’t ever write

    That’s such great advice, Lisa. Needs to be said to new writers more often.

  4. […] Hey, Eisha. Remember when Lisa Graff stopped by 7-Imp last year (almost one year to the date) to chat with us at the release of her first novel, The Thing About […]

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